Your poor throat hurts. Is there anything that can help? A sore throat prevents you from eating, drinking, sleeping, talking, and generally functioning—who needs that?
Most frustratingly, sore throats can be caused by anything from allergies to the common cold or bacterial infections like strep.
“The best way to find out why your throat hurts is to see your doctor,” says family medicine specialist Daniel Allan. But if you can’t make an appointment right now, Dr. Allan shares some of the most effective home remedies for sore throats — some that last for days — and some that aren’t as effective as advertised.
6 ways to treat sore throat at home
In the meantime, try Allan’s proven remedies for sore throats.
- Hot and cold liquids
Drink a warm drink such as tea or chicken soup. (It’s not just good for the mind!) Or try cold liquids like ice water or popsicles. Soothing your throat is up to you.
“Fluids help clear mucus, maintain blood flow, and prevent sinus infections,” says Dr. Allan. Warm temperatures reduce coughing by soothing the back of the throat. Try both hot and cold to see which works best for you.
Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of salt or an equivalent amount of baking soda in a cup of warm water. To completely relieve sore throat, gargle the decoction every three hours (but do not swallow).
Salt water helps reduce throat swelling and irritation. Baking soda soothes the throat, dissolves mucus, and helps eliminate acidity that irritates the throat.
- OTC antihistamines and pain relievers.
Antihistamines relieve sore throats and soothe sore throats. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen can help relieve pain that goes a little deeper into the gland and other parts of the neck.
“Histamine is a chemical that helps your immune system fight foreign substances. But sometimes they overdo it and cause symptoms (such as nasal congestion and runny nose) that make the sore throat worse,” explains Dr. Allan. Antihistamines can counteract this overreaction.
- Steam and humidity
Take a hot shower. When you’re really angry, breathe in some throat-clearing magic. Dr. Allan says the steam thins and moisturizes mucus, which helps with sore throats.
- Hot shot
Hot punch is a hot drink made from water, whiskey, honey and lemon juice. Some people add spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Oh yes, you must be of legal age to try it. Sorry kids.
Dr. Allan explains why hotcakes are so relaxing.
Honey coats the throat, soothes it, and reduces irritation. Honey also has antibacterial properties, and its sweet taste soothes the nerve endings in the throat and reduces coughing.
Whiskey (a small overdose can cause dehydration) breaks down and thins mucus. Whiskey dilates the blood vessels on the surface of the throat, allowing the immune cells in the blood to multiply and fight infection.
Spices stimulate saliva production, improve throat moisture, and improve mucus flow.
Put your head on the pillow and close your eyes at the right time. Repeat if necessary.
“Physical and vocal rest should not be underestimated,” says Dr. Allan. But be careful: lying on a flat surface can sometimes cause swelling due to increased pressure in the back of the throat. Instead, try elevating your bed or sitting on a recliner or chair to relieve pain and discomfort.
Home Remedies for Sore Throat
Dr. Allan cautions that not all sore throat medications are created equal. He advises you to leave these two:
Apple cider vinegar. It may be antibacterial, but it’s not good for sore throats.”
Essential oils. “They have not been well studied and their safety and effectiveness have not been clinically proven.”
Avoid things that irritate your throat, including:
Sour food or spicy food.
Lie down immediately after eating, especially if you have acid reflux.
How long does a sore throat last?
It depends on what is causing the sore throat. “Most sore throats go away within three to 10 days if they’re caused by a viral infection like the common cold,” says Dr. Allan.
If the cause is a bacterial infection such as streptococcus or an allergy, sore throat can last for a long time if not treated properly.
You have enlarged lymph nodes or a feeling of swelling in your neck.
A white spot or rash on the back of the throat is a sign of acute pharyngitis or scarlet fever.
Have a high temperature.
Loss of voice for more than a week or two.
When it comes to disease, remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Wash your hands frequently. If you do get sick, Dr. Allan recommends replacing your toothbrush with a new, germ-free one immediately.